Thursday, January 26, 2012

The current state of robotics in Japan

Readers may recollect that I had publicised, some years ago, the year 2012 as the date on which Japan would start releasing the next generation of "intelligent robots" (some of which I previewed in those posts).

I don't see any sign that any spectacular release is planned for this year, though it could be that the releases may happen without much fanfare - or that the launch has been delayed by the crisis which started in 2007. However, there is lots going on the robotics industry in Japan.

Japan is biggest producer of robots in the world. For example,some 290,000 industrial robots were operating in Japan last year, 60% more than in its closest competitor, North America. Japanese companies are more active in certain fields than in others - e.g. houcsecleaning and nuclear sites have not been among their priorities so far. However, at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, it was Japanese robots that entered the No. 2 reactor building (while American ones entered building no. 3). The Japanese robots, called Quince, were developed by the Chiba Institute of Technology. Not only is Japan the overall leader, but it is also launching new initiatives to become the world leader in segments, verticals and niches where it is not yet number one.

While Japan anticipates going into the red in terms of its trade balance this year, I anticipate that it will move back into the black as soon as the new generation of intelligent robots is properly in the market.

The most interesting robots produced recently include:

1. The Wedding robot:
The wedding of Professor Satoko Inoue and Satoko Shibata was presided over by I-Fairy, a 4-feet high robot, valued at 6.3 million yen and made by Kokoro Co. Ltd. I-Fairy is able to recognise people and imitate natural movements while reciting pre-recorded lines.

2. The Singing and Dancing Fashion Model:
Fashion designer Yumi Katsura chose Miim, a 5-foot 2’’ robot to model a wedding dress on the catwalk as the finale for her design showcase. Miim is walks the catwalk and pauses at the end. She not only talks, walks, claps, waves, smiles, frowns, sings, exercises, and dee jays, she can even hold her own in a press conference!

3. The Perfect Companion:
Created by computer specialist Le Trung, Aiko is a pretty robot who can cook, clean, do the accounts, read newspapers and speak 13,000 sentences in English as well as Japanese.

4. The Sommelier:
NEC System Technologies and Mie University developed a ‘wine-bot’, a 2ft robot sommelier that can ‘taste’ wine and provide customers with accurate identification of the wine. Apparently, the robo-sommelier can be programmed to provide personalized wine recommendations.

5. The Dental Patient:
Simroid is a robot designed by Kokoro and Co. Simroid looks like a small Japanese woman and has a full set of teeth with sensitive virtual nerves. Designed for dental patients to practice on, Simroid is able to yelp if the dental students touch any nerves.

6. Kobot is a three-wheel single-seat electric scooter that responds to a smart phone and, for example, folds itself into a space of about one cubic meter for storage.

7. The Hairdresser:
Panasonic created a hair-washing and drying robot with 8 fingers and a 3-motor mechanism.

8. The Actress: Geminoid F is a robot actress that has performed in a play directed by Japanese director Oriza Hirata, alongside human actress Bryerly Long. Geminoid F was created by Hirohoshito Ishiguto and is scarily lifelike

9. Dual home cleaning/cinema:
RIDC-01 is a $85,000 robot designed to clean houses. Once finished, RIDC-01 has a projector and can be converted into a home cinema to project DVDs.

10. The Ladder-Climber:
Osaka-based industrial equipment maker Muscle Corporation and a few other Japanese companies have developed a humanoid that can climb up and down ladders all by itself. The so-called “Dream Robo” was initially showcased during the Shanghai Expo 2010. Now it stands 1.4m high, weighs about 30kg and moves with the help of five motors that are built into its body.

11. The Farmer:
You may not believe it, but robots are being sent in to try and save Japan's ravaged agricultural production. After the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011, the government is planning to spend $52 million in the next 6 years to place robots on farmland decimated by floodwater from the tsunami. The robots will work the fields and then box the crops after harvest. Whether anyone will want to buy and eat what is boxed is a different kind of question. Sphere: Related Content


I apologise for having been "off" for a bit but I was travelling, and my computer was on the blink.

The idea is to resume some service as of today, and full service on Feb 1. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 23, 2012

What happens to philanthropy during a recession?

Interestingly, IN THE USA, it goes UP!

The above link takes you to the text of an article based on results of a substantial study (6000 households over 20 years - 1982 to 2003 - which experienced three recessions).

The article is published in The Journal of Consumer Research, by Wagner A. Kamakura (Ford Motor Company Professor of Global Marketing, Fuqua School of Business, Duke University) and Rex Yuxing Du (Hurley Professor of Marketing, C. T. Bauer College of Business, Houston University).

What does the data show? That: recessions shrinking US GDP by 2% caused some US consumers to increase charitable giving by 32% (!!!), while others increased their tobacco consumption by 16%.

As regular readers of my Blogs will know, I have followed philanthropic giving for some time, and this finding is astounding.

Americans really are rather special people. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 21, 2012

If interested in textiles from India

On my visit to India this year, in the cold of Delhi, I am reminded that one of the most honest and reliable exporters of wollens, carpets, etc from India is Mr Om Prakash Kalia, whose office is very near the Golden Temple, telephone: +91 9988 245 000.

I have known him for some decades, and can call him a real friend. And I suppose I should make it clear that I have no share in his business, and benefit financially from it in no way. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 13, 2012

Assessment of Global Risks 2012 by the World Economic Forum

If you have not yet read the WEF view for this year's Global Risks, I encourage you to read it:

Here are the top five clusters of risk (which they call risk-related Centres of Gravity):

•Chronic fiscal imbalances (economic)
•Greenhouse gas emissions (environmental)
•Global governance failure (geopolitical)
•Unsustainable population growth (societal)
•Critical systems failure (technological)

I am surprised to find "unsustainable population growth" included here, as it is fairly clear that global population growth will start declining shortly. The biggest societal risk is surely the rise of a worldwide "me" generation, that cares little for wider society and does not want to get involved in politics, leaving the first field to a few do-gooders, and the second field to liars, thieves and murderers. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Druid forecast versus mine for 2012

A cheerful bit of news from a local newspaper in the UK apparently says: “2012 will be a great year... Druids... have high hopes after the Sun shone on Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, yesterday to mark the Winter Solstice.”

The friend who sends me the above says: "THANK YOU, DRUIDS! We could all do with a great year".

Yes, we could indeed all do with a great year.

But if what is meant by a great year is a great year financially or economically, you'll have to wait to see whether the Druids are right, or I....

Meanwhile, the really good news is that money isn't everything. It isn't even signify a lot. Money is merely a necessity or convenience. What matters is what one does with the money one has, however little that may be.

Do good to others. Spread cheer to the people you come across. Reach out to the poorest and most miserable folk that you may not even know personally, through people you trust. That way, whatever is happening in global economics and politics, the year will be a great one for you and yours. Sphere: Related Content